Body parts intact, Blaine and Daniel wrapped up the last few questions, and then it was time for lunch. We wandered into the common area just outside the kitchen and saw long tables laden with Texas barbecue. Nothing was labeled, but it was clearly meat, meat, more meat, and giant bottles of smoky barbecue sauce. And white bread! I was really excited to eat something I have studiously avoided for the past twenty-five years.
Ominous signs had been taped to the table – something like, “FANSITES FIRST, FOOL” – so we got dibs on the deliciousness of Texas barbecue, which apparently must always include mac ‘n cheese. It was pretty darn good. Daniel Erickson hung around and ate something that was clearly not barbecue out of a plastic cup. Cereal?
After lunch, the entire brigade of BioWare writers assembled to conduct a Q & A session. The regular writers stood against the wall, in classic line-up formation, but Drew Karpyshyn stationed himself in a comfy chair, presumably trading on his elder statesman standing as author of the Mass Effect novels and the upcoming Revan tale.
Daniel Erickson introduced the people that are giving us the fourth pillar. The fansites mentally revved up with their story-related questions, but just when hands started going up, Daniel deflected them by deciding it was time for each writer to talk about their favorite thing they wrote in SWTOR. Imperial Agent writer Alexander Freed gave Daniel a kind of WTF look and took a page from the Sarah Palin Book of Tricky Interview Questions by telling him everything he wrote is awesome, thank you very much. That answer ate up a good ninety seconds of the half-hour session, and there were still eleventy billion writers to go. Daniel had cleverly hijacked the Q & A by greatly reducing the opportunities for fansites to work the Q part! Well played, Daniel, well played. The good news is their stories were actually pretty interesting.
Fun fact: Writer Jessica Sliwinski was hired from the fan fiction community. How fantastic! No wait, how horrible! I can’t decide…yes, yes, it’s definitely a good thing because that means BioWare pays attention to the community and looks for talent among its most avid followers. Kudos, BioWare!
Eventually, the fansites were given a chance to grill the writers on the most vital aspect of any BioWare story arc – what’s it gonna take to score with our companions? And will there be a happily or unhappily ever after? Inquiring minds want to know how long we’ll have to keep buying gifts for our companions.
There was one question that had been knocking around in my brain ever since Daniel Erickson’s monster post on marriage in the SWTOR forums. Here is a man who has clearly put a lot of thought into marital constructs and what they mean in Star Wars — the differing practices of Jedi and Sith, views on divorce, what you get to do to your cheating spouse. I imagined Daniel sitting at his desk, gleefully writing high-drama, sci-fi bodice-rippers with cheating companions and soul-less marriages of convenience. Getting divorced? Minus 50 Social Points! Engaged to a Senator’s daughter? New title and achievement! So of course, I want to know, will there be an in-game feature for marriage?
My fantasy of Daniel Erickson as SWTOR Matchmaker was quickly squashed when he told us that the best tool for role players is the imagination. I don’t disagree with that sentiment, but it might have been fun for married characters to wear wedding bands or have a mechanic where the husband loses Affection Rating with his spouse when he forgets to change the oil on the speederbike.
Daniel told me that marriage between players and other players is something the role-playing community will work out on their own. SWTOR will have tools to help role-players along, by which I suppose he means wedding dresses and tiered cakes with little Hans and Leias on top. What about marriage between players and their companions? “That one,” said Daniel Erickson, “is still in the possibility camp.” Later, Smuggler writer Hall Hood took it one step further and said he hoped that his class would be the first to get an in-game divorce. Oh Hall, he looks so optimistic and cheerful, but he is clearly hiding a cynical streak.
At last, it was time to PLAY THE GAME.
Carla chose to play the Imperial Agent since that’s the class she’s most interested in, so I pick Khurya, a Rattatki Bounty Hunter. This is a species I have zero interest in playing simply because the artwork I’ve seen so far hasn’t appealed to me. I have to admit, though, my little lowbie Rattatki was quite compelling. The look has transferred very well to an in-game character. It would have been nice to make my own toon from scratch, but that would have been a bad idea for two reasons: 1) I would have eaten up valuable playtime making sure I was attractive and didn’t have a dumb name, and 2) Stephen Reid would have unhinged his jaw and devoured me for entering the forbidden zone of Character Creation Land.
I wrote an extremely in-depth review of my hands-on experience here, for those who are not afraid of many paragraphs, unbroken by nary a picture nor conversation. In short, playing SWTOR felt familiar yet fresh. I stepped right into the world, found myself immediately engaged with the quests and NPCs, and knew this was a game I could sink many, many hours into. If you want to hear my thoughts on the Bounty Hunter, combat, Black Talon flashpoint, and the Smuggler, go read my review.
Carla and I had been playing only about an hour when David Bass came to tap us on the shoulder. It was time to talk to Georg Zoeller, our one interview of the Summit. Prior to our arrival in Austin, I spent a bajillion hours sifting through all the questions people sent us and through all the questions I thought up on my own. For those wondering why the heck none of the fansites asked about x, y, or z, it is probably because we were told ahead of time which topics the developers were not going to be able to discuss. So instead of thirteen minutes of us going, “OMFG JUST TELL US HOW MANY PEOPLE IN A RAID AND WHEN IS THE GAME COMING OUT,” we made an executive decision to ask things we had a chance of getting a clear answer on. Would it have been fun to see how many ways Georg Zoeller could say, “On the advice of counsel I invoke my Fifth Amendment right not to say something I shouldn’t and have my ass get fired?” Probably not. It definitely would have made boring video.
So instead I got my panties in a twist about Advanced Classes and dual spec. I went in for the kill. “Admit it,” I said sternly, “players will have to have separate characters for PvE and PvP with your antiquated, rigid design.”
I may have mentioned both World of Warcraft and RIFT about eight times…with Stephen Reid practically at my elbow. Was that a sigh of irritation? I dared not look him in the eye.
For his part, Georg was greatly amused by my little fits of temper. He calmly explained this and that about the current system and how BioWare is still considering different options, including Advanced Class respec outside your chosen class, so nothing is set in stone. He also explained that their philosophy, which we would hear more about the next day, is that PvP should be based less on how much gear you collected through hours of grinding battlegrounds, and more on a player’s ability to dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
We ended the interview with our Yes/No/Pass game. Georg warily answered our list as best he could, pausing carefully on one or two of them before responding. He cheated a little with a “maybe” or two, and also by adding the “at this time” qualifier, but he was such a good sport, we didn’t hold it against him. Originally conceived as a way to ease the pain of the inevitable “We aren’t talking about that right now” deflection, it occurred to us later that this game could, in fact, be a way to surprise something out of a dev. Georg figured that out himself in his 1415 entry. Cory Butler would have told him the safest way is to shout “PASS!” at every option.
We are holding our video interview with Georg until the second embargo is lifted, but you can see a few of the highlights from that interview in our article here. [UPDATE: You can now watch our interview with Georg here.]
Fun fact: Each fansite submitted their top three choices for their Summit interview. Georg Zoeller was the most popular number one pick. This is probably due to the fact that the fansites have not been allowed to commune with him before and his presence on the official forums makes him a much sought-after BioWare celebrity.
Additional Fun Fact: Georg Zoeller is himself a forums aficionado, having been active in the forums communities of Never Winter’s Night and Baldur’s Gate. He was hired into the gaming industry from those communities. [DISCLAIMER: this Fun Fact is in no way meant to encourage you in your trolling ways. Yes, you.]
Interview over, Carla and I both raced back to our computers to finish our origin worlds sessions. Even the mesmerizing brilliance of Georg Zoeller could not compete with SWTOR.
Next: Dave & Buster’s, recording with Mos Eisley Radio